M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs will be back in action this week as the FIA World Rally Championship resumes at Rally Estonia – almost six months after the global pandemic brought world sport to a standstill.
Hosting the return of top-flight rallying, the Estonian fixture has been organised in line with new guidelines set out by the FIA and Estonian Government, and strict protocols to ensure a safe and successful return include mandatory testing, the use of face coverings, social distancing and the creation of groups to minimise the potential risk.
As a new event in a new-look 2020 calendar, Estonia becomes the 33rd country to host a round of the FIA World Rally Championship and is famed for its blisteringly-fast, high-speed, stages. Estonians have a love for rallying and the gravel stages are not unfamiliar to the top teams – all of which attended a WRC Promotional event in Estonia last year.
Team Principal, Richard Millener, said:
“It’s great to be going rallying again. I have certainly missed the action – so much so that I got behind the wheel myself on the M-Sport Return to Rally Stages in Greystoke last week. It was good fun and I didn’t embarrass myself, but not in the same league as these guys and I think we’re all looking forward to seeing them blasting through the forests once more.
“This rally is going to be the blueprint for all future FIA World Rally Championship events, and I have to say that the organisers have done a fantastic job in ensuring its safe and successful running. Everything has been considered and planned, and it’s thanks to the hard work of so many behind the scenes that we’re able to get this fantastic sport back up and running.
“Realistically of course, we know that we’re not in the same position as the others teams. With no competition for almost six months, we’ve been hit particularly hard by the global pandemic and had to re-evaluate a lot of what we do. We’ve not had the luxury of testing, but all three crews have had at least some seat time and I know they’re looking forward to being back in action.”
ESAPEKKA LAPPI / JANNE FERM
Having finished on the podium at Estonia’s WRC Promotional event last year, Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm have experience of the Estonian stages which are not too dissimilar from those in their native Finland.
Contesting Lõuna-Eesti Ralli with JanPro Racing’s EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC earlier this month, Lappi had an opportunity to get up to speed with the top-specification Fiesta and will be looking to build on that this week.
Esapekka Lappi said:
“It’s been a long time away from the action, so I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel. I was at Estonia’s WRC Promotional event last year and the stages are really nice. They’re quite similar to Finland in some ways, and even faster in some places so the pace is going to be pretty much flat out!
“We know that we’re not in the same position as the other teams and we’ve not had the opportunity to do the same level of testing, but I did manage to drive Lõuna-Eesti Ralli which was really good fun. It was important to get that seat time, and our main objective next week will be to get back out there, get back up to speed, and enjoy rallying again.”
TEEMU SUNINEN / JARMO LEHTINEN
Teemu Suninen had success in simulator racing during lockdown, but the young Finn is ready to get back behind the wheel of the rally car now. And having recently moved to Estonia, this will be something of a home event for the young Finn.
Contesting Lõuna-Eesti Ralli with a Ford Fiesta R5 earlier this month, Suninen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen also had a day testing the Fiesta WRC in Greystoke. Staying in Cumbria after the test, they joined the thousands of Brits enjoying a ‘staycation’ in the English Lake District National Park and were shown the sights by Team Principal, Richard Millener.
Teemu Suninen said:
“I did some simulator racing during lockdown, but I’m definitely ready to get back behind the wheel of the rally car now! It’s been a long time, and I’m really looking forward to Rally Estonia which will be a bit like a home rally for me now!
“We’ve not had a lot of seat time, but I drove Lõuna-Eesti Ralli with a Fiesta R5. That was quite a special rally for me as I organised everything myself – and it made my appreciate how much the team do for us on WRC events as there really is so much you have to think about.
“We also had a day testing the Fiesta WRC in Greystoke. The stages in Estonia are really fast so it was important to have that day getting back up to speed. And we stayed in Cumbria a few days afterwards too – exploring the Lake District with Rich and catching up with some of the guys before we head out to the rally.”
GUS GREENSMITH / ELLIOTT EDMONDSON
Gus Greensmith and Elliott Edmondson will experience the Rally Estonia stages for the first time this week as they continue their first full season with the top-specification Fiesta.
Getting back up to speed following the six-month break, the young Brits had two days putting the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC through its paces in Greystoke forest, and will focus on building their speed throughout the event.
Gus Greensmith said:
“I cannot wait to get back behind the wheel of the Fiesta WRC! We had a couple of days testing in Greystoke last week and I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy pushing the loud pedal in this car!
“We know that we’ve not had the same amount of seat time as some of the other guys, but this is still a learning year for me and the most important thing is to go out there and enjoy it.
“This will be my first time in Estonia and I’ve heard that the stages are incredible. I’m looking forward to experiencing them for myself, and will just aim to focus on my own event – and on learning and improving my times as the weekend goes on.”
ADRIEN FOURMAUX / RENAUD JAMOUL
Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul have been racking up the seat time with the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 and most recently contested the M-Sport Return to Rally Stages followed by Rallye Terre de Lozère in Fourmaux’s native France.
Leading the latter on Saturday evening, the pairing became victims of their own success – opening the road through the final gravel stages and missing out on victory by just a couple of seconds. But the seat time will hold the pairing in good stead as they return to contest the WRC 2 category at this weekend’s Rally Estonia.
No stranger to the Estonian stages, Fourmaux contested the event with a Ford Fiesta R2T19 last year and more than held his own against the locals – building up to stage-winning pace and securing a competitive third in class.
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“We’ve had a busy few weeks and now I’m really looking forward to being back in the FIA World Rally Championship. We’ve been lucky to do quite a few events recently, so I’ve seen how different countries and championships have adapted to the new rules – and everywhere people have been safe and happy to see the rally cars back in action, as are we!
“I drove the Fiesta R2T19 at Rally Estonia last year so I have some knowledge of the stages – which are really fast and incredible to drive. It’s pretty much flat-out, but there are also some trickier sections where you also have to be really precise. The competition will be strong, but I’m looking forward to it and hope to deliver another good result.”